School trustees have voted to eliminate bus fees for regular riders in Chilliwack, to reduce courtesy rider fees, and to bulk up field trip coffers for all district schools.
The school board and district staff held a special meeting Thursday afternoon, following a surprising transportation funding announcement from the province the day before.
The Province is offering funding for each school district to offset transportation costs. But in school districts which have already implemented fees, the caveat is that those fees need to be eliminated for students traveling to schools in their catchment area. In Chilliwack, the funding available is $329,456. That more than covers what they would have collected from regular riders in fees this year, a report from superintendent Evelyn Novak states.
Last school year they collected $215 from regular (catchment area) riders for a total of $277,446, and $350 from courtesy riders, for a total of $84,901.
This year, they’ve already collected $195,000 in fees, from courtesy and regular riders. Much of that will soon be refunded to parents, and the finance department will be working to connect with each family in a timely manner.
“We are already working on a strategy,” Secretery-treasurer Gerry Slykhuis said in the meeting. “It’s going to take a little bit of time.”
The board voted unanimously in favour of accepting the funding, which will also be given next year at the same amount. Trustee Bob Patterson was absent, and Trustee Walt Krahn attended the meeting via phone.
Novak’s report on Thursday recommended eliminating the regular rider fee which “would still leave $52,010 of Transportation Funding that could be utilized for other enhancements. Reducing the Courtesy Rider fee to $250 per year would cost $24,257,” she wrote.
“The remaining funds ($27,753) could be allocated to help schools with cost of extra-curricular trips.”
That won’t amount to much for each school, Slykhuis noted, but it will alleviate some financial pressure from parents.
Trustee chair Silvia Dyck said the decision last year to implement fees was difficult, but “has paid off” by putting pressure on the government to begin funding bus costs.
“I believe we’ve contributed even though we’ve had some hard days over it,” she said. “This is a good news story.”
The new fee for courtesy riders would be $250. There are currently about 250 courtesy riders in Chilliwack.
The school district will now put their application forward to the province to be approved for their portion of the $14.7 million in funding.